Bartone, Day, Hix, and Davenport Win Big
2014 March Meet
by Stephen Justice
The March Meet has always been about the top fuel dragster. The race started in 1959 when The Smokers hosted the first event, then known as the U.S. Gas and Fuel Championships. Its hegemony never threatened, the March Meet ran continuously through 1988 as the largest independent event on the drag racing calendar. After a hiatus of five years (1989-1993), the March Meet was revived and the nitro-burning slingshot dragster resumed its pre-eminence as the class the fans wanted to see. Bill Dunlap and Mike Fuller, winners in 1994, still compete today in Top Fuel Dragster, a testament to the allure the sultry and sexy rail holds over both fan and racer alike. It was not until the current decade that the dominance of the fuel dragster began to wane. When Adam Sorokin won in 2010, there were 19 competitors entered in the T/F Dragster class. That dropped to fifteen the next year, and down to an all-time low of thirteen in 2013. It was hard to believe that a class that Adam Sorokin’s father, Mike, drove to lasting fame in the “The Surfers” dragster in 1966, might disappear from the drag racing map. For now, it looks as though that will not occur as a full field of sixteen top fuel dragsters entered the 2014 March Meet and the class appears to be stronger now than in the past few years.
Dave Gruzen driving Stormy Byrd's NE 1 roadster
The March Meet was originally conceived as a test of mettle and skill between top fuel dragster teams from the east versus the west. The Smokers paid Don Garlits a hefty sum of money to see if his “Swamp Rat” was as good as Art Chrisman’s “Hustler”, Chuck Gireth’s “Isky Tiger”, or Jim McLennan’s Champion Speed Shop. It would take Garlits seven years to win his first March Meet, but by then, the east-west rivalry was in high gear. The pendulum swung east starting in 1963 when Art Malone bested Tom McEwen, and did not return to the shores of California until Mike Sorokin and “The Surfers” wrested it back in 1966. This rivalry continues today as teams east of the Rockies have won the last two March Meets (Wisconsin’s Jimmy Young). This year’s combatants ended up being Long Island City’s Tony Bartone versus San Diego’s Rick White. Bartone qualified #1 at 5.630, but White was only a few clicks back in #2 at 5.691. If all went according to Hoyle, they would meet in the final round; they did. Going in, Tony had recorded the quickest elapsed time of the meet—a 5.629 against Ron August Jr. in E2. On the other hand, Rick had been the more consistent, never running slower than a 5.756. White was gunning for this second March Meet win, the prior one a dominating victory in 2011. But, Bartone saved his best run for the final round, clocking 5.623/ 262.13 for the win, low elapsed time, and top speed of the meet. White, for his part, stayed close with a creditable 5.715/252.52.
If the top fuel dragsters have been in decline the past few years at the March Meet, the same cannot be said of the Funny Car class. The reasons are obvious: fans identify with the Mustang, Camaro, and Firebird body types with their intricate design and paint schemes and clever names. Plus, they are loud, violent, and damned fast. A few years back, it could have been said that a few teams dominated the top of the ladder. Not so today. Last year’s winner, Tim Boychuk, failed to qualify as well as other notable entries like John Hale’s Mike Burkhart tribute Camaro, “Mr. Explosive” Mark Sanders, and Frank and Debra Ousley’s “Crop Duster” Monza driven by Anthony Bronge. As expected, it was an all five-second quality field with the bump spot going to Dale VanGundy at 5.904. It was a lineup also dominated by California-based cars, the only exceptions being Kris Krabill (#4-WA), Tim Nemeth (#5-BC), and Peter Gallen (#11-PA). The leaders of the pack were Dan Horan Jr., Steven Densham, and Jason Rupert at 5.668, 5.692, and 5.714, respectively. It turned out to be quite a slugfest with #10 James Day surviving to race what appeared to be an invincible Dan Horan Jr. in the final round. Densham had failed to stage against Day in E2, and Rupert had been dispatched by Gallen in E3. Meanwhile, the unflappable Horan Jr. was conducting his business as usual with a superlative string of times—5.683; 5.706; and, 5.730. Then, Day and Horan Jr. met; they raced; and the unexpected happened. Dan was late, very late (.200 RT), and James’ 5.883 was good enough to deny Dan’s exquisite 5.726.
The Fuel Altered class returned to the March Meet this year with an 8-car field that included Keith Wilson’s wicked “Witch Doctor”, the “Mike Sullivan” Fiat driven by Jeremy Sullivan, and the infamous “Winged Express” handled by Mike Boyd. This class epitomizes the spirit of nostalgia drag racing probably better than any other category; high-powered short wheel-based race cars accelerating well beyond 200 MPH. Central Point, Oregon’s Dan Hix won the inaugural race with a 6.110 to 6.210 run over Sullivan.
In A/FD, the blown alcohol versus injected nitro rivalry continued unabated with six alcohol and five nitro entries. Ryan Davenport’s blown BAE paced qualifying with a 6.238, but Kin Bates 468 cid injected Chrysler was right behind him at 6.241. Bill Wayne also dropped under 6.3 in qualifying with a 6.252. Another class in resurgence, the A/FDs ended up with nine cars qualifying at 6.744 or better, including PRs by Shawn Corbari (6.365) and Bobby Cottrell (6.370) during eliminations. Davenport, remarkably consistent throughout eliminations (6.220/6.223/6.221), continued his slot car ways in the final round against Bates, zipping to the finish line first at 6.196.
Nostalgia Drag World - by Stephen Justice